If you live in the Midwest or anywhere else where cottonwood trees are part of the landscape, you know they are messy things. I’ve got one right outside my front door that’s four stories tall and, according to neighborhood lore, 85 years old. Every year around now, it fills the air with a blizzard of white stuff so thick you can barely see down the block.
For a week or three, my neighbors and I despise that tree. We hate the seeds with cottonlike strands that accumulate on our window screens, that stick to the soles of our shoes, that we track into our foyers and hallways so that when the dirty deed is finally done, we have to clean the carpeting on all three flights of stairs.
Not everybody shares our disdain. Kids, contrary beings that they are, take a perverse delight in the transformation of the late spring landscape into a kind of winter wonderland. They love the layers of white that blanket the yards. They love the downy drifts that accumulate at the edges of the curbs and in the folds of the hostas along the sidewalk.
Once, when I was visiting my friend Debbie in the hospital where she was being treated for cancer, we sat by the window gazing out at Lincoln Park. She was on a low floor, with a sweeping view of tree-lined walks, green soccer fields and a harbor where boats had just begun to return to their summer moorings. Beyond that, Lake Michigan stretched off toward Wisconsin, toward Sheboygan and Manitowoc and Sturgeon Bay. Below us, we spotted an older man and a girl of about 4 or 5 strolling hand-in-hand through a cottonwood squall. The man, who we assumed to be the grandfather, swept the trees' seeds off his shoulders irritably with his free hand, while the child tugged happily ahead, delighted by the woolly eddies she stirred up. Suddenly, she wriggled her fingers free from Grandpa's grasp, threw herself down on her back and proceeded to wave her arms and legs against the ground.
In a pique, the old man pulled her upright, harrumphing as he brushed away the mess that now covered the back of her flowered jacket. The youngster, oblivious, laughed and pointed, and when we looked at where she was pointing, even from that distance, Debbie and I could make out a snow angel as plain as day in the cotton-covered lawn.
About the same time, Grandpa noticed, too, and quit his scolding. He put a hand on the girl’s shoulder, and together they admired the angel as it quivered and stirred and faded away.
I would love to draw some profound connection between this incident and the current state of health care. Something about how even in the tumultuous period in which we find ourselves, with wild and woolly rhetoric flying everywhere, hospital leaders and their staffs manage to find their sweet spot every day, delivering the best care they possibly can to their communities and the people who live in them.
But other than the fact that I witnessed the scene from a hospital room, there's no health care connection. The only reason I wanted to write about it at all was to remember once again my friend Debbie, who died 19 years ago this month, and to recall a fleeting moment that lifted her spirit, and mine — and might do the same for you. — This is adapted from a 2012 blog I wrote for H&HN Daily. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.